Clinton to woo Russian people on “reset” trip

Wed Oct 14, 2009 9:22am EDT

By Jeff Mason and Conor Sweeney

MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ends her visit to Russia on Wednesday with a charm offensive to win public support for Washington’s efforts to reset relations but no clear breakthroughs from formal talks.

During talks on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev, Clinton failed to win specific pledges from Moscow on tougher sanctions against Iran if Tehran does not allay concerns that it wants to build a nuclear bomb.

But Clinton did not meet Russia’s key decision maker, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was in China on an official visit during her time in Moscow, although she had wanted to see him.

“I would have enjoyed meeting with Prime Minister Putin and we certainly had intended to do so but our schedules didn’t allow us, so I am looking forward to seeing him on a future date,” she told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Wednesday.

Clinton, finishing a European trip that included stops in Zurich, London and Belfast, will hold a question and answer session with students at Moscow State University and fly to the ethnically diverse Republic of Tatarstan for a “roundtable” discussion.

President Barack Obama has said he wants the United States to improve its relationship with the Russian government as well as its people, and Clinton’s trip has worked to achieve that.

Russian media have given generally positive, though low-key coverage to her visit.

“The main result of the Moscow meeting is that the parties have stopped preaching to each other and engaged in a serious dialogue on all the issues,” commentator Vladislav Vorobyov wrote in the government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta.

The planned Moscow back-and-forth with a local audience, a campaign-like format that has become a hallmark of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, may give Russians a chance to express views on U.S. policies and practices they do not like.

Goaded by anti-Americanism during recent years in state-controlled media, polls show that many Russians still have a negative view of the United States despite the officially proclaimed “reset” in relations.

On Iran, U.S. officials said Medvedev had reiterated his stance that sanctions may be necessary if Iran did not fulfill promises it made to world powers at a meeting in Geneva.

But Lavrov emphasized during a joint news conference with Clinton on Tuesday that talk of sanctions at this point was counter-productive, saying efforts should focus on dialogue.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Human rights — another issue where Washington and Moscow have often disagreed — also came up in Clinton’s meetings with leaders and could draw attention at Wednesday’s events.

Clinton said she had raised the unsolved killing of journalists during her talks with Lavrov and Medvedev.

“I mentioned the names, I mentioned the killings of journalists, it’s a matter of grave concern not just for the United States but for the people of Russia,” she said during Wednesday’s radio interview.

Rights activists told Clinton on Tuesday during a private meeting that authorities were not doing enough to solve the killings of journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya and human rights advocates including Natalia Estemirova.

Clinton’s trip to Kazan in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan is also meant to illustrate how people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds can live together.

More than 3.8 million people from eight main ethnic groups live in the republic, according to its official web site. More than half the population practices Islam, while Orthodox Christianity is the other main religion.

“What’s particularly attractive to me about Kazan is you have a Mosque and an Orthodox church side by side in the capital there, and the larger Tatarstan is predominantly Muslim, but people live very well together in an interfaith way,” Clinton said.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

[original]

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